Tattoos on the Heart

Father Gregory Boyle Character Analysis

Father Gregory Boyle is the narrator and protagonist of Tattoos on the Heart. For more than thirty years, he has lived in Los Angeles, preaching from his church in the Dolores Mission and running Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that specializes in helping ex-convicts find work. Boyle focuses his efforts on responding to the threat of gang violence in the impoverished parts of Los Angeles. Gang violence, he argues, makes people frightened, cruel, and unwilling to accept the unconditional love that is their birthright as human beings. Boyle nurtures close relationships with hundreds of youths, many of whom are guilty of serious crimes. Instead of judging his students, congregants, and employees, Boyle treats them with compassion and respect (as well as some occasional, well-timed sarcasm). In doing so, Boyle models his conviction that mankind’s purpose is to embrace kinship—in other words, love and loyalty for other people, no matter how superficially “different” they might be. Boyle is a talented community organizer, and he’s realistic enough to recognize that, while admirable, his efforts in Los Angeles are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the overall scope of the problem of gang violence. Nevertheless, he takes great pride in the good work that he’s done, and continues to devote himself to the doctrine of kinship even after he’s diagnosed with cancer.

Father Gregory Boyle Quotes in Tattoos on the Heart

The Tattoos on the Heart quotes below are all either spoken by Father Gregory Boyle or refer to Father Gregory Boyle. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Kinship Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Free Press edition of Tattoos on the Heart published in 2011.
Introduction Quotes

Suddenly, the welcome mat was tentatively placed out front. A new sense of "church" had emerged, open and inclusive, replacing the hermetically sealed model that had kept the "good folks" in and the “bad folks" out.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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Homeboy Industries can only hire and help a finite number of gang members. Though thousands have found assistance, it remains a tiny drop in a pretty deep bucket. In the city of Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries has operated as a symbol as much as a place of concrete help. For more than twenty years, it has asked this city "What if we were to invest in gang members, rather than just seek to incarcerate our way out of this problem?"

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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"Damn, G," he shakes his head, "What's up with white people anyway?"
I was actually curious as to what was up with us.
"I don't know what is up with us?"
"I mean, damn," he says, "They always be using the word GREAT.'"
"We do?"

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Luis (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 1 Quotes

Our image of who God is and what's on God's mind is more tiny than it is troubled. It trips more on our puny sense of God than over conflicting creedal statements or theological considerations.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

There is a longing in us all to be God-enthralled. So enthralled that to those hunkered down in their disgrace, in the shadow of death, we become transparent messengers of God's own tender mercy. We want to be seized by that same tenderness; we want to bear the largeness of God.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

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All throughout Scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can't pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers. […] The principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame—a global sense of failure of the whole self.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

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Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don't grow into this—we just learn to pay better attention.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

To love the enemy and to find some spaciousness for the victimizer, as well as the victim, resembles more the expansive compassion of God. That's why you do it.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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This man sees all this and shakes his head, determined and disgusted, as if to say "tsk tsk."
"You know," he says, "This used to be a church."
I mount my high horse and say, "You know, most people around here think it's finally a church.”

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

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They refuse to receive communion. I beg them. They will not budge. I go to the congregation and invite them to receive communion. Not one person comes forward. I beg and plead, but no one steps up. I discover later, with the help of some Jesuit scholastics, that the Indians' sense of cultural disparagement and toxic shame was total. Since the time of the Conquista, when the Spaniards “converted” the Indians, they baptized them, but no roofs ever got ripped open. This was to be their place—outside of communion—forever.
Maybe we call this the opposite of God.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 80-81
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

I'm thinking, How does a sixteen-year-old get off thinking that she won't see eighteen? It is one of the explanations for teen pregnancies in the barrio. If you don't believe you will reach eighteen, then you accelerate the whole process, and you become a mother well before you're ready.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

"Damn, G, seventy-five?" He shakes his head in disbelief, his voice a bare hush now. "I mean, damn . . . when's it gonna end?"
I reach down to Omar and go to shake his hand. We connect and I pull him to his feet. I hold his hand with both of mine and zero in on his eyes.
"Mijo, it will end," I say, "the minute . . . you decide."

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Omar (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

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"Tonight, you taught me that no amount of my wanting you to have a life is the same as you wanting to have one. Now, I can help you get a life—I just can’t give you the desire to want one. So, when you want a life, call me."
And I walk away more than a little discouraged. I contemplate a career change—crossing guard perhaps.
Some months later, Leo did call me.
"It's time already," he says. I knew exactly what that meant.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Leo (speaker)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

"Oh, come on now G, you know," he says, spinning his hand in a circular motion, "You're in my . . . jurisdiction."
I can’t be entirely sure what Junior meant. Except for the fact that we all need to see that we are in each other's "jurisdictions," spheres of acceptance—only, all the time. And yet, there are lines that get drawn, and barriers erected, meant only to exclude.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Junior (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

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We seek to create loving communities of kinship precisely to counteract mounting lovelessness, racism, and the cultural disparagement that keeps us apart.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

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Maybe there are eight of us or so when the meal finally gets served. Plenty to go around and just as tasty as it could be. Everyone brought his flavor to this forbidden pot of iguana stew and keeping anyone away and excluded was unthinkable to this band of prisoners. Alone, they didn't have much, but together, they had a potful of plenty.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Related Symbols: Caldo de Iguana
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

'THE LORD IS NOTHING I SHALL WANT."
There is enough strained obligation in what we think God asks of us that our mantra might as well be "The Lord is nothing I shall want." But the task at hand is only about delighting—with joy at the center. At ease. We can all relax.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Olivier (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa's take: "We are not called to be successful, but faithful." This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Mother Teresa (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten-point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with His brand of solidarity. They wanted to see Him taking the right stand on issues, not just standing in the right place.
But Jesus just stood with the outcast. The Left screamed: "Don't just stand there, do something."

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker)
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Bandit hangs back. "Can I tell you something, dog?" I ask, standing in the parking lot. "I give you credit for the man you've chosen to become. I'm proud of you."
"Sabes qué?" he says, eyes watering, "I'm proud of myself. All my life, people called me a lowlife, a bueno para nada. I guess I showed 'em."

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Bandit (speaker)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

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"For the first time in the history of this country three gang members walked into the White House. We had dinner there . . . I told her the food tasted nasty."
He pauses and gets still. And she cried.
I get still myself.
Well, mijo, whaddya 'spect? She just caught a glimpse of ya. She saw that you are somebody. She recognized you . . . as the shape of God's heart. Sometimes people cry when they see that.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:

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But who wouldn't be proud to claim Chico as their own?
His soul feeling its worth before its leaving.
The mortician's incredulity reminds me that kinship remains elusive. Its absence asserts that any effort to help someone like Chico just might be a waste of our collective time.

Related Characters: Father Gregory Boyle (speaker), Chico
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

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Father Gregory Boyle Character Timeline in Tattoos on the Heart

The timeline below shows where the character Father Gregory Boyle appears in Tattoos on the Heart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction: Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries
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Beginning in 1984, Father Gregory Boyle works as associate pastor for Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles. In 1986, he becomes... (full context)
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Over his years at Dolores, Boyle witnesses the deaths of many “young people.” In 1988, he buries a victim of gang... (full context)
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Boyle notices that many middle schoolers who get involved with gang violence are kicked out of... (full context)
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Over time, more and more gang members attend Boyle’s church, as well as his school. Boyle reasons that if they spend time in his... (full context)
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Also in 1988, Boyle realizes that gang members need jobs more than anything else. He organizes programs to give... (full context)
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During the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Boyle organizes some important peace treaties between gangs. In retrospect, he sees that doing so gave... (full context)
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Boyle is shocked by the Los Angeles riots of 1992. There are fires and angry mobs... (full context)
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After giving the interview, Boyle is contacted by a famous Hollywood agent named Ray Stark. Stark tells Boyle that he... (full context)
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Boyle is proud of what he’s accomplished with Homeboy Industries, but he’s realistic enough to realize... (full context)
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In 1999, seven years after Homeboy Bakery opens its doors, it burns to the ground. Boyle’s first reaction is to assume that gangs have destroyed the building. But the fire inspectors... (full context)
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At the original Homeboy Bakery, Boyle employs a man named Luis, a savvy former drug dealer. Luis renounces his gang allegiances... (full context)
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Boyle remembers Luis when he speaks at Luis’s funeral. Luis is murdered on an ordinary Wednesday... (full context)
Chapter 1: God, I Guess
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As a young man, Boyle has a memorable encounter with his good friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain. Bill’s father... (full context)
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In 1990, reporters come to Boyle’s church to report on his work in the community. Mike Wallace, the famous newscaster, tells... (full context)
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Boyle wholeheartedly believes that God is greater and more compassionate than any mortal could imagine. One... (full context)
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Boyle has been raised to believe in God’s love and mercy. As a priest, he tries... (full context)
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Boyle goes to visit a teenager named Rigo, who’s living in a detention facility. Rigo’s father... (full context)
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One day, Boyle gets a call from a man named Cesar, whom he’s known since Cesar was a... (full context)
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In 2004, Boyle reunites with a man named Scrappy. Boyle has known this man since 1984, when Scrappy... (full context)
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When Boyle reunites with Scrappy in 2004, Scrappy is a calmer man. He sits down in Boyle’s... (full context)
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Shortly after being ordained as a priest, Boyle works in Bolivia, tending to poor, uneducated congregants. His Spanish is atrocious, so he finds... (full context)
Chapter 2: Dis-grace
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On Saturdays, Boyle goes to probation camps and delivers Mass. Then, he returns to his parish and officiates... (full context)
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Boyle has read that people become addicted to drugs in part because of their strong sense... (full context)
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Beginning on the 4th of July, Boyle’s neighborhood is transformed into a massive, two-week party space. There are parades, firecrackers, and dances.... (full context)
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Boyle next discusses a man named Lula. He’s currently in his early twenties, and has a... (full context)
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The principle suffering of the poor, Boyle argues, isn’t that they’re poor—rather, it’s that they’re ashamed. Boyle has seen people’s capacity for... (full context)
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Each Sunday after Boyle gives Mass, he speaks privately with several of his congregants. One day, he speaks with... (full context)
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Boyle recalls a teenager named Speedy. Speedy would risk his life walking home a woman on... (full context)
Chapter 3: Compassion
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In 1993, Boyle teaches a course on “Theological Issues in American Short Fiction” in Folsom Prison. At one... (full context)
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In the early days of Homeboy Industries, Boyle spends a lot of time with a twelve-year-old kid named Betito. Betito is smart and... (full context)
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Boyle often thinks about Betito. He finds it hard not to hate the two men who... (full context)
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Boyle remembers a teenager named Looney, who belongs to a local gang. Boyle meets with Looney... (full context)
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...treat sinners like outcasts—instead, he sat down and ate with them. In the same spirit, Boyle sits down and eats pizza with Looney, giving him the love he needs to thrive. (full context)
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...sanctuary for undocumented immigrants since 1987. At various times, this has proven controversial. One day, Boyle finds that someone has spray-painted “Wetback Church” outside his building. His first instinct is to... (full context)
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...after, a former member of the community drives by the Dolores Church and chats with Boyle. He’s a little surprised to see that the church is full of addicts, gang members,... (full context)
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Boyle meets a teenager named Anthony, whose parents are in prison and who sells drugs to... (full context)
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Boyle delivers a talk at the University of Montana, along with two adults, Matteo and Julian,... (full context)
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Boyle officiated his first wedding in Bolivia. The couple was Quechua, and they refused to take... (full context)
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Boyle goes on a three-state speaking tour with two of his former students, Memo and Miguel.... (full context)
Chapter 4: Water, Oil, Flame
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Over the years, Boyle has baptized thousands of people in Los Angeles. Sometimes, he’ll run into adults whom he... (full context)
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Boyle recalls a young man who worked for Homeboy Industries. He calls Boyle on New Year’s... (full context)
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Boyle next recalls a teenager named Terry who used to come to the church. She would... (full context)
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Many of the gang members Boyle meets grew up without a father. And some of the youths Boyle meets who did... (full context)
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The next person Boyle writes about is a young woman named Natalie Urritia, who comes to work for Homeboy... (full context)
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Perhaps the most basic difference between Homeboy Industries and a Los Angeles gang, Boyle argues, is that gangs offer conditional love and support: if their members do something wrong,... (full context)
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One day, Boyle is working when he notices that Danny, a young kid, has wandered into his office.... (full context)
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Boyle meets a teenager named Andres. Andres has run away from home at the age of... (full context)
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Boyle has noticed that his students and congregants have a tendency to think of their flaws... (full context)
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Boyle recalls a man named Fabian, who worked for Homeboy Industries for many years, and now... (full context)
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In recent years, in part because of his cancer diagnosis, Boyle has started to receive a lot of awards for his two decades working with gang... (full context)
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Boyle recalls the day that Jason—a quiet, somewhat sullen former gang member—ran into his office. Jason... (full context)
Chapter 5: Slow Work
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...is a teenaged kid who works for the Homeboy center. One day, he walks into Boyle’s office and claims he knows someone who finds Boyle’s public lectures “monotonous.” David laughs and... (full context)
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Boyle knows a teenager named Omar. Omar, a former gang member, asks Boyle how many people... (full context)
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At a Mass held in prison for a dead gang member, Boyle meets a gang member named Grumpy. Boyle gives Grumpy his card and offers to remove... (full context)
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Waiting is a central part of Boyle’s career, but he wasn’t always good at it. He remembers a teenager named Leo, with... (full context)
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Boyle remembers the death of a gang member named Psycho. Thirty days after the death, Psycho’s... (full context)
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Some gang members get trapped in cycles of despair. But Boyle can remember one gang member, named Joey, who found a way to be hopeful. One... (full context)
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Another former gang member, Bugsy, asks Boyle to buy him shoes. Boyle agrees, but tells Bugsy a story. In the story, an... (full context)
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One day, Boyle gets some bad news: two former gang members who work with Homeboy Industries got into... (full context)
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In the Bible, it says that love is patient and love is kind. Even though Boyle has heard these words recited thousands of times, he pays special attention one day at... (full context)
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Boyle recalls a former gang member named Pedro, who currently works for him as a case... (full context)
Chapter 6: Jurisdiction
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On his walk to work, Boyle passes by a middle-aged man named Junior, who drinks constantly. One day, Junior yells out,... (full context)
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Boyle recalls a gang member named Flaco who deals drugs and uses the drug PCP. Flaco... (full context)
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Boyle knows two former gang members named Chepe and Richie who need to get out of... (full context)
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One Sunday, Boyle gives a Mass in prison, a place where racial boundaries are strong. At the Mass,... (full context)
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In 1993, Boyle spends three months visiting the prison island of Islas Maria, sometimes called “the Mexican Alcatraz.”... (full context)
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Boyle hires two former members of rival gangs, Danny and Artie, to sell Homeboy Industries merchandise... (full context)
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An ex-gang member named “Clever” begins working at Boyle’s Homeboy Silkscreen nonprofit. One day, however, Clever crosses paths with an old rival named Travieso.... (full context)
Chapter 7: Gladness
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One of the most basic things Boyle teaches is that life is only worth living if it’s pleasurable. He remembers speaking on... (full context)
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Boyle elaborates on Spider, a nineteen-year-old ex-gang member who works for Homeboy Industries. Spider has to... (full context)
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Boyle remembers his father, who died a month after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. In... (full context)
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Boyle recalls an elderly woman named Lupe, who speaks up at a church meeting. Lupe has... (full context)
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Boyle knows a Homeboy Industries employee named Moreno. He’s known Moreno since Moreno was a young... (full context)
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Boyle considers the ways that most Christians think about worshipping God. Some say that loving God... (full context)
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One day, Boyle notices two teenagers who work in his program, Mario and Frankie. He sees Frankie leaning... (full context)
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Boyle returns from a lecture tour and meets with a former gang member named Marcos. Marcos... (full context)
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Boyle goes with Israel and Tony, two employees of Homeboy Industries, to the annual Christ the... (full context)
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...In the gunfire, Rickie and Adam’s little brother, Jacob, is murdered. Shortly after the funeral, Boyle hires Rickie and Adam to work with him. He invites them to one of his... (full context)
Chapter 8: Success
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Boyle has mentioned Scrappy in a previous chapter. Shortly after he began working for Homeboy Industries,... (full context)
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Boyle argues that many people believe that they have a duty to improve the lives of... (full context)
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Boyle is driving out of his church one afternoon when he sees La Shady, a nineteen-year-old,... (full context)
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La Shady wants Boyle to help her interpret a dream she had. In the dream, she walked into Boyle’s... (full context)
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Boyle returns to his earlier point: God doesn’t want people to worry about their success, unless... (full context)
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One day, Boyle sees a man named Manny, who used to live in the projects. This displeases Boyle—he... (full context)
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With Boyle’s encouragement, Manny’s family agrees to donate Manny’s organs to the medical authorities. One of the... (full context)
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Boyle remembers a former gang member named Ronnie who got his diploma and joined the marines... (full context)
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...to weep. The kid ends up surviving. You can’t bring the dead back to life, Boyle concludes, “But you can stretch your arm across a gurney and forgive and heal.” (full context)
Chapter 9: Kinship
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...have “forgotten that we belong to each other.” The opposite of this process of forgetting, Boyle suggests, is kinship: recognizing our common humanity and our love for each other. Boyle has... (full context)
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A couple years ago, Boyle was diagnosed with leukemia. So far, he’s survived cancer-free. He remembers a gang member calling... (full context)
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Boyle reunites with a young man named Lencho who’s just left prison. They first met when... (full context)
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Boyle recalls Richard, a young man who started working for Homeboy Industries at the age of... (full context)
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Boyle grew up in a big house with lots of brothers and sisters. He and his... (full context)
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Fifteen years ago, a man named Bandit comes to see Boyle. Bandit is a well-known thief in the gang world, but he tells Boyle that he’s... (full context)
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...respectful, and a little overwhelmed to be so close to the wife of the president. Boyle is invited to speak at a conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Boyle... (full context)
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Before the trip, Boyle takes Alex, Charlie, and Felipe to get suits for their visit to D.C. But then,... (full context)
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At the White House, Boyle and his three companions enjoy a lavish dinner, including caviar—a food none of the former... (full context)
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In 1996, a gang member named Chico calls Boyle and asks for a job. Boyle meets Chico in person—Chico insists that he’s interested in... (full context)
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Shortly afterwards, Boyle learns that Chico has been shot. Boyle visits Chico in the hospital—Chico may be paralyzed... (full context)
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The mortician’s reaction, Boyle thinks, reminds him that kinship can be hard for some people. But it’s crucial that... (full context)